Driving two friends crazy

By Liao Fangzhou Source:Global Times Published: 2014-7-27 17:18:01

Han Han’s directorial debut is fashioned around a road trip

There might be several factors behind the buzz around The Continent which opened in Shanghai last Thursday, but few would argue that the dominant buzz was that this was the directorial debut from Han Han, the 32-year-old literary icon and opinion shaper who has been influential in China for more than a decade.

Posters for Han Han's directorial debut The Continent Photos: CFP


Posters for Han Han's directorial debut The Continent Photos: CFP


Posters for Han Han's directorial debut The Continent Photos: CFP


Wang Luodan plays Su Mi in the movie.

With Han's identity as a professional rally driver and humorist standing as his signature appeal, it was not a surprise that he chose to write and direct a road-trip comedy. The two protagonists Ma Haohan (Feng Shaofeng) and Jiang He (Bolin Chen) live on Dongji Island, China's easternmost archipelago. When Jiang, a primary school teacher, is posted to teach in the country's westernmost area, Ma decides to drive his best friend there.

The journey is over the continent of the title and this is how the story unfolds. New acquaintances come and go as the two protagonists drive and stop, developing a series of stories that are, in one way or another, linked to fraud. A stray dog they pick up on the way, is, ironically, their oldest, most faithful companion.

Jiang's random love interest Su Mi (Wang Luodan) and a Cantonese hitchhiker, A Lü (Wallace Chung), travel with the two for some of the journey and contribute to interesting twists and turns, but Ma's longtime pen friend Liu Yingying (Yuan Quan), whom he was planning to visit from the start, provides the most intriguing moments of the film.

Liu's segment, which only lasts for a few minutes, is set in a pool hall. The two start a game and a conversation - Ma takes the lead, but in no time Liu is dominating both the game and the conversation. With every shot, Liu sinks a ball while she reveals a family secret, smashing Ma's sad pretensions with hard-hitting truths.

The scene could have appeared contrived and artificial, but Han hits the right note here, leaving Ma's emotional devastation understated. While the camera closely details the reactions of the two lead characters to Su Mi and A Lü, there is no revelation here, nor an explanation for a secret that Ma keeps to himself - a secret that, without being revealed, becomes a potent force for this sequence with Liu.

A lot of talk

For the rest of the film, the characters sure do talk a lot. Naturally, they talk the way Han does in his books, blogs and interviews - a style often described as quick-witted and funny. And, accordingly some of the jokes cracked every now and then are decidedly B-grade, a Han hallmark.

But we must remember that Han did not become the leading writer of his generation because he was a stand-up comedian. In this film he covers his sentimentality and ambition to touch hearts with a careless cynicism. Like it or not, the worst parts of the film are those moments when this cover is abandoned and the chicken-soup-for-the-soul sentiment takes over.

It will be difficult for sophisticated audiences to get more than one or two laughs from this film - perhaps the story of two naïve young men from a remote island finding themselves in a bigger more complex world will appeal more to people from small villages (Han himself grew up in a village on the outskirts of Shanghai).

But the theme of parting, which is the real point of the journey, is universally evocative. The Chinese title of the film, Hou Hui Wu Qi (Never to Meet Again), conveys the real message - that any goodbye might be a last goodbye. The goodbye scene between the two best friends is properly intense as they start becoming strangers to each other. Overall the film is an agreeable experience, though perhaps one would have to be an unquestioning dedicated fan of Han to want to see it a second time. At the least it will not harm the public appetite for any future cinema projects Han might have in mind and that's a good thing for the writer-turned-director.

Everyone's a critic

Wang Fan

32, hardware engineer

"It's a really important work and the best domestic film in a while. The cinematography and music are appealing and the film is a comedy that manages to be also slightly sad and moving. Some of the lines will stay in my memory."


22, university student

"Even though I wasn't expecting much, I was disappointed. When the film isn't trying to make the audience laugh, it becomes pretentious. Whatever Han wants to convey with these 'deeper moments,' they don't work. On the plus side, Bolin Chen is perfect."


25, postgraduate student

"This was a very mediocre movie, but perhaps the best automobile advertisement of the year. It was sad to see my childhood role model, Han, lose his touch."

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, Culture

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